By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"The hurricane was a mix of good and bad. I seen people steal things they wouldn't have otherwise. I seen people band together as neighbors for survival, to protect their homes. Even the neighbors that didn't like each other. They had a common goal so they got along. But when the common goal was no longer necessary, they went back to being who they were before.
"I bonded with a lot of people. Some of the older ladies I work for ask me for advice, cry on my shoulder -- I've had that literally happen a couple times. You're there, and you've got nothing to offer except your skills as a carpenter, and they can't afford that, so you go ahead and help 'em out anyway. You know? They'll say, 'Boo-hoo! The contractor took all my money! I don't have any family! I don't know what to do, my front door won't lock!' I say, 'I'll fix it.' Because I love people."
"I grew up on a farm in Indiana. By the time I was twelve we were raising milk cattle. Of course, we had chickens, a couple of beef cattle, pigs. I quit school when I was sixteen. The principal at that time was going to paddle my butt for something I didn't do. He said, 'Oh, yes you did.' I said, 'Wait a minute.' I went down the hall to my locker and got my books and threw 'em on his desk.
"Then I went to work in a turkey-processing plant. That was real bright, wasn't it? Cleaning up turkey guts all day. Ah, but I bought an old '57 Chevy and fixed it up. I was on my way. I was the baddest little sumbitch the world ever produced, or so I thought.
"I was running with some bad guys who were older. They were not of the highest- quality character, if you know what I mean. I knew I had to get away from there. So I joined the Corps on my seventeenth birthday.
"As soon as I got to Vietnam they put me on 30 days mess duty, battalion rear. They sent me out to the bush after that and made me a tunnel rat. I went down holes with a .45 and a lot of clips full of ammo, and a flashlight with a bayonet taped to it, to check for booby traps. After about six months of it, I came out of a tunnel one day and threw my shit down and said, 'That's it. Put me in the brig, but I quit.'
"They didn't put me in the brig. They said, 'Yoder? You see that machine gun over there, .60 cal? Go carry that for a while.' Now a machine gunner, his life expectancy is about the same as a tunnel rat -- 30 days. When you have firefights with the enemy, you have to get fire superiority. So you throw everything you got at the machine gunner, because who's kicking out the most bullets? So everyone shoots at the machine gunner. Soon I was squad leader in charge of fourteen men, going out on ambushes.
"One day we went out about a klick, that's a kilometer on a military map. We come around this mountain to a rice paddy. We put up a trip flare in the middle and lay down in the bushes all night, got our firing range, and waited. We were waiting for the gooks to come down the trail that ran beside the rice paddy.
"But they had seen us set in. And when we come out in the morning, they had an ambush set up on the other side of the rice paddy, which was only from here to, say, the Big Cheese restaurant over there on South Dixie. The trail went right beside the rice paddy and we were walking along it when they opened up on us. We had to get fire superiority or we were dead. We shot at the machine gunner first and got him down. I said, 'We got to get out of here, let's hit it.' One guy got hit in the leg. I scooped him up, right? I'm helping him. I'm shooting with my left hand, he's changing my clips and putting in new ammo, pulling the slide for me, and we're bookin' the whole way.
"After that I wound up back in the good ol' USA. I put four years in the Corps and then I went to the army for two. I got married, had a kid, another kid, adopted a kid, got divorced. I was a truck driver for a year and something, driving coast to coast. L.A. to New York was my main run, hauling produce, a refrigerated unit.
"My mother and my sister lived down here in Florida, so I came down to Sarasota. About seven years ago I took my mom to a Fifties and Sixties dance. This chick was standing there by the door and I went out to have a cigarette because you can't smoke inside the auditorium. I said, 'You wanna dance?' 'Maybe,' she says. She goes back inside. Then later on here she comes. She says, 'You still want to dance?' I said, 'Maybe.' That was the start of our relationship.